Advised that Italy had joined forces with Hitler’s Germany, Churchill allegedly responded, “Seems only fair. We had them in the last war.” We tend to equate valor with military bravery – and overlook the violence just below the surface of our relatively safe and peaceful lives. This is not possible in Sicily, where I am headed today. In anticipation, I read Peter Robb’s Midnight in Sicily, which tells the history of La Cosa Nostra and its intricate ties with the Christian Democrats, Italy’s major political party. It is a frightening tale, guaranteed to cure any visitor’s narcolepsy. Unfortunately, I have insomnia.
Robb shatters the image of a mafia operating in the shadows, imposing a corrupt peace and killing only its own dissidents, describing a “Palermo destroyed like Beirut by a war that’s lasted over forty years, the war of mafia power against the poor,” one that caused 10,000 deaths in a decade, stole billions, and came to America with Lucky Luciano, who left Sicily in 1919 and returned with US forces in 1946.
It has been a war with authentic heroes, men who sought justice knowing they would be killed in its pursuit: Alberto Dalla Chiesa, prefect of Palermo, murdered with his wife; Giovanni Falcone, magistrate, murdered with his wife; Rocco Chinnici, chief prosecutor, murdered; Paolo Borsellino, deputy prosecutor, murdered; Mino Pecorelli, journalist, murdered. These and countless others, including Sicily’s current president, Rosario Crocetta, knew the cost we pay by keeping silent and looking the other way. They are truly brave men.
I will try to report on my trip, but I don’t know if I will be able to, so this may be my last post until I get back in mid-April.